Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up
ortney Tidwell is the voice issued from numb, unrecognizable faces in the clipped phrases of dream. She’s singular only in that she’s clear and wondrous; you’d be hard pressed to pick her voice from a line-up of new starlets, one through ten, but when you hear her on record, atop a dazzling mix of country-pop, electronic grifting, and cold-fused shoegaze, you understand just what a guide this voice becomes.
Building on the promise of her self-titled EP on Ever earlier this year, Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up is a collection of songs that essays various genres without losing its clarity or getting stalled in one gear. This is the sound of a pop savant, spread across well-known plains and frontiers but with a novel sense of place and purpose that makes its novelty comfortable.
Where so many indie pop records flirt with ‘experimental’ flourishes, a notion that’s long since lost its heft, Don’t Let Stars makes bedrock of its oddities instead of using them as drapery. It shifts fluidly from the star-gazing folk of “Eyes Are at the Billions” to the ladies of the canyon pop-like “Pictures on the Sidewalk,” from the fizzy shoegaze of “The Missing Link” to the crumbling musique concrete of “I Do Not Notice.” “Society,” which features Lambchop’s William Tyler and Kurt Wagner, is a stately jazz-bar strut, while “Our Time” finds Tidwell seeking solace in a stark bramble of acoustic guitar and banjo. But Tidwell holds them all together with her calm recall; she gains poise in such beautiful confusion, be it sylvan or pressingly metropolitan. Comparisons to the Cocteau Twins, Joni Mitchell, Mazzy Star, and label-mates Cyann and Ben are apt, but where those artists often smother themselves in a sheet of noir, Tidwell wants to glide through the blue and skirt the black, fingering the edges of her songs with a billowing sense of optimism that suits the psychedelic-pop forebears she’s quoting.
Whether she’s hovering above lone acoustic guitar (“La-La”) or side-stepping a scatter of punchy beats and moon-scorn static (the gorgeous title track), Tidwell finds the vocal tone to match. It’s not that she’s a chameleon, but more a shadowy singer capable of shifting to the subtle light of the day. Bjork would be an easy tag, given the way her voice extends into discordant harmony and alien melodic pitches, but aside from the Vespertine-like “Illegal,” Tidwell’s marvelously controlled and patient with her reach, allowing her to stay in touch with the more organic, urban-rustic elements of her sound. “The Tide,” for example, begins with a low rumble of static and pulsing synths, but Tidwell’s voice is all-too-human, full of questions and quiet rebukes against the effete nature of this distance. “Bring it home to me, baby / Bring your love to me, darling,” two threadbare lines yearning for homecoming, sound unusually poignant against the simmering electronics beneath. But that’s Cortney Tidwell. Her talents are bewitchingly similar, typical; it’s how she brings such grace to the grist of every ordinary thing that makes her so striking.